Sunday, October 16, 2022

Making Deals with the Devil

As is his wont, Janan Ganesh, of Financial Times columnar fame, offered up some interesting thoughts in yesterday’s paper. They are so interesting that I cannot link them. Alas.

His theme, to use my terms, is making deals with the devil. He discusses Elon Musk’s presumed deal with Vladimir Putin-- though we are not quite certain that it ever happened. And he offers some thoughts about famed Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima, the man who committed seppuku. (Not to be confused with sudoku.) I have no idea how Mishima got into the mix, but there he was.

Most importantly, for our purposes, are Ganesh’s comments about the corporate chieftains who are making deals with leftist radicals. You know who I am talking about, the CEO’s who are promoting the idiotic ravings of the anti-racism crowd, who are becoming champions of sustainable investing and who are hard at work destroying our energy independence in favor of a child’s vision of a pending apocalypse. And then there are the uber rich who imagine that since they have a lot of money they are also qualified to think philosophically. And who make blithering fools of themselves by embracing fanatical  ideas, without having any idea of what they are in bed with.

They may be trying to palliate the fervor of their young radical employees or they may be trying to relate to their college student children, who have been brainwashed with leftist ideology to within an inch of their sanity. Let us not forget that these children are going to college because their executive parents gave the college a massive amount of money, and thus, what they are learning there must be of consummate value.

Now, Ganesh, who is certainly not a right winger, qualifies the radical left, not as Marxist, as most right wingers do, but as Leninist. He does not say that these corporate dupes are making a deal with the devil, but he implies as much. 

The problem is zealotry. Businesspeople prefer to negotiate; they prefer to do deals. Fanatics, of the sort that are being produced by our great universities, want it all. They will pretend to make a deal but will not respect its terms. They will immediately renege on their commitments, the better to get it all. 

Businessmen function according to pragmatism. Zealots see the world in all or nothing terms. 

Zealots, even rightwing ones, don’t get business: the pragmatism of it, the lack of absolutes. To judge by Elon Musk’s faith that Russia will honour whatever peace deal he has in mind, instead of coming back for more, the incomprehension is mutual.

It is said often enough that business people are all at sea in politics. Allow me a speculation, formed over years in and around both worlds, as to why.

So, business people do not understand politics. Duh. In truth, they do understand the old style of politics, with its deal making, its compromising and its negotiating. They do not understand today’s radical young idealists who are not interested in governing, but in exercising power, in forcing people to do as they want them to. Like the man said-- Leninists, all the way down.

Corporate executives make deals. They do not get fanaticism. They are trying to deal with it, but in the wrong way. They are practicing something like corporate seppuku. They would do better to crush it.

They don’t understand fanaticism. They don’t believe that something as abstract as an idea can move people to extreme deeds. No, there must be earthly and negotiable grievances under all that mystical bluster. There must be a deal to be done. 

Consider this a capitalist spin on Engels’s notion of false consciousness. An aggressor in war can cite imperial honour and other intangibles as animating drives. “Let’s talk”, is what someone of a commercial cast of mind hears. Even Trump, who knew something of the extremities of human nature, dealt with strident regimes in transactional terms.

Deal making requires something like an orderly world, a world where people respect themselves, each other and third party adjudication. It does not involve dealing with what Ganesh calls doctrinal fervor, failing to accept the outcome, failing to honor the terms of the deal, because, don’t you know it, the planet is self-incinerating and we must do everything in our power to stop it.

Of those I know who take the Musk view of Ukraine, almost all work in business, mostly in finance. But of course they do. Their world is one of positive-sum deals between good-faith parties, or at least rational ones. There is a third-party enforcer called the commercial courts if someone reneges. They encounter intransigence all the time but never doctrinal fervour. No wonder the war screams out to them to be lastingly bargained away. Theirs is what the French call “déformation professionnelle”: the tendency to see the world through the lens of what one does for a living. It is a kind of innocence, not a kind of malice. And no less dangerous for that.

Now, it happens that politics has entered the executive suite. And business executives are trying to deal with young fanatics by making deals with them.

Or take the left’s march through the corporate world. Speaking to business audiences over the past decade, one trend stands out. 

Executives more and more report the politicisation of the office. Some are concerned. Most, to my surprise, are keen on “allyship” or whatever jargon they have half-understood from their children or more ornery staff that week.

Now, as someone who aims to retire without ever having managed a single person, I shouldn’t presume to guide them on corporate leadership. But I will say this: CEOs, I notice, assume they can decide how far this stuff goes. Their bet is, if you give the cultural left half a loaf, the rest is yours to munch at your leisure. That is what happens in business, after all. But this is politics. And the wilder edge of it, at that.

The cultural left is inhabited by maniacs. Give them half a loaf and they will want to take the rest. Try to negotiate with them and they will think you are weak.

So expect them to come for everything. Expect no concession to be enough. “Marxism” is a word used a lot about campus-radicalised activists. “Leninism” is more accurate. One describes an historically ordained and ultimately harmonious social order. The other insists that it must be fought for, all the time, without quarter.

So, we have woke executives who do not understand true idealists and fanatics. They certainly do not understand leftist extremism.

In a sense, Musk is of a piece with the woke CEOs he seems to define himself against. Neither can fathom the extremist ken. 

Because no one with a rigid and abstract mind ever thrived in business, neither can credit that it flourishes elsewhere. The tension between dealmaker and true believer is ancient and reciprocal. 

As I said, some interesting analysis from Janan Ganesh. You might think that young radicals just need some growing up. Yet, if you are dealing with the devil, expecting rational engagement is a losing strategy.


IamDevo said...

Marxism, Leninism. You say potato, I say poetaetoe. Let's call the whole thing off. Regardless, Ganesh correctly perceives what has been discernible for quite a while, namely, that once you admit a single SJW (or "woke" as you might prefer) into your organization, it will eventually be taken over by said SJWs. It is an iron law. It also illustrates the operation of Conquest's Second and Third Laws of Politics, viz., "Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies." Ganesh also correctly remarks that there is no bargaining with ideologues; there is only defeating them. Reminds me of what Rush Limbaugh (PBUH) used to say about dealing with "liberals," for which he was unjustly criticized. If only more people had listened to him.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that great negotiator Neville Chamberlain.

Walt said...

Well observed. Depressingly true.